Saturday, 20 March 2010

Aberystwyth Like The Bronx

Tom Anderson looks to the future
(photo P Finch)

Out west recently the writers gathered to discuss what was new. The west was chosen because things would be slower there. Time would not be like it is in the rest of the world. Come and stay with us in the slow far west, ran the Academi’s advertising spin. There was an immediate response by e-mail. “In what way is the Gwaun Valley slow”, someone asked? Well, slower than Swansea, anyway. Studies into the speed people walk down the street have shown that while they gallop in London they merely briskly stride in Cardiff. In Swansea they amble. And it’s all slower again in Carmarthen. Is time the same the world? No it’s not.

So what was new? In the early decades of the twentieth century Ezra Pound wanted everything to be so. New world, new poetry, new reading, new understanding. And the modernists did just what he said. This gave us Joyce and Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett. Gave us continuous present, gave us stream of consciousness, gave us collage and indeterminacy and plots that spun like dervishes. We’ve overdosed ever since, establishing whole cultures based on the idea of perpetual revolution. Can it go on?

The Gwaun Valley New Narratives gathering was unsure. Certainly there were new methods of delivery out there – e-readers, hand-helds, text message fiction, novels that were printed to the customer’s order, stuff that only ever existed on the web. There were also huge new audiences. More books being read in Wales today than at any time in its previous history.

There were also new ventures – Holly Hewitt and Deborah Kay Davies’ ultra short sudden fiction. Niall Griffiths and Malcolm Pryce’s reimagining of place - in their case Aberystwyth. The thing I love about Aberystwyth are the headlines in the Cambrian News, Niall told us. “Padlock Stolen From Local Car Park. Aberystwyth Like The Bronx”. Tom Anderson’s travel writing that blended fact with fiction as it followed the paths of rolling anticyclones during America’s hurricane season. Joe Dunthorne with a fiction that barely hung around for five minutes in novel form before it was turned into film.

But did the writers actually engage with the genuinely new? And did they, or indeed their audiences, actually need it? The answer was probably no.

It could be that literature’s next step will not be one out into a wide blue yonder of morphing style and fractured multi-media. It won’t baffle or enrage. We’ve done more than a hundred years of that. Instead it might just concentrate on starting and then finishing, on gaining an audience and keeping it, on selling itself in a massively overcrowded market. Books have a future. Although in what form nobody is quite sure.

A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 20th March, 2010

No comments: